By Sommer Foster
Michael Sam just became the NFL’s first openly gay professional football player. The league doesn’t discriminate – the only thing that matters is whether you can play football.
But that’s not the case in 29 states where – no matter how talented you are – you can still be fired just because you’re gay (and in 32 states, you can still be fired just because you’re transgender).
It’s hard to believe that in today’s day and age, it’s legal to fire a hardworking employee from their job or refuse to hire someone who’s qualified for a position simply because they’re LGBT. Most of us, 75 percent according to latest polling, agree that – people who work hard and play by the rules should be judged on the same terms – by our credentials, experience, education and performance. No hardworking employee should have to live in fear that they can be fired for reasons that have nothing to do with their job performance.
In Michigan, non-discrimination ordinances passed in 33 cities and municipalities show that Michiganders will no longer stand for discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Every passing day, and every victory indicate that we are building momentum for change. Each municipality that has stood up for human rights has made the road to amending the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, to include protections for sexual orientation and/or gender identity, a little easier.
Due to local ordinances, we have been able to bring issues of LGBT discrimination to the forefront and shape the conversation like never before. These ordinances educate people and communities about the rights that LGBT people are missing. They help point out the unsettling fact that someone who lives in Royal Oak, but who works in Southfield, would have protections at home but not at work. That instance alone makes a great case for the need for statewide protection.
Local ordinances have also served another purpose: they’ve offered legislators and local leaders over 40 years of evidence that prove that these ordinances make communities more welcoming to both businesses and families.
Legislators and local leaders should make note of a fact pointed out in the Michigan Department of Civil Rights report on LGBT Inclusion that all of the cities in the Lower Peninsula that house our major universities “have local nondiscrimination ordinances (Ann Arbor, East Lansing, Detroit, Kalamazoo, Mount Pleasant and Ypsilanti). Similarly, Michigan’s largest urban cities and business hubs have enacted such ordinances (Ann Arbor, Detroit, Flint, Grand Rapids and Lansing), as have many of our most frequented tourist destinations such as Detroit, Traverse City and Saugatuck.” These areas have reputations for attracting more young people, businesses and families. We see people choosing to make their lives in many of these areas and choosing to spend their free time in these cities.
In the process of passing these ordinances, we are not only creating momentum, changing the conversation and building a welcoming Michigan, we are protecting people. We currently have about 20 percent of our population protected. This is wonderful, and important, because anytime we are reducing harm, on any level, it is important. But, it is not enough. We need uniformity and we need to fill in the gaps. There are too many Michiganders who lack protections, and it is time for that to change.
Michael Sam just got hired for what he does. And because of the NFL’s policy, he can’t be fired for who he is. The NFL has made their values clear. Their nondiscrimination policy is simple: if you’ve got the talent, you’ve got a job. It is time for Michigan to make our values clear. It is time for Michigan legislators to step up and protect ALL Michiganders. It is time for our laws to reflect who we are, and our belief in fairness and equality for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
In the NFL, it only matters how well you do your job. Sign the petition at the link below if you think Michigan should follow that example.
Equality Michigan works on non-discrimination in conjunction with our partners in Unity Michigan. For more information on how to push for an ordinance in your community, please visit http://dontchangeyourself.com.